I voted for Donald Trump for two clear reasons. First, his name is not Clinton. Second, he promised to nominate Supreme Court Justices from a published list of conservative judges. I have been amply satisfied on both counts.
Then, I watched pleasantly surprised as the Trump administration engineered a tax reform that could only improve economic growth. Then, it quickly dismantled hundreds of federal regulations, a strategy that could only benefit entrepreneurship and business activity. Sure enough, there was a sudden rise in Gross Domestic Product growth. I don’t have any proof of causality here but the temporal coincidence is gratifying! At the same time, the unemployment rate – which had been going down even in the waning days of the Obama presidency, it’s true – continued to nosedive. It reached an all-time low for African Americans and for Hispanics. That fact illustrated nicely the basic conservative idea that results count more than intentions. (Remember, that Adam Smith wrote the same in 1776 but who reads Adam Smith nowadays?)
Soon, there was the blessed withdrawal from the comedy of the Paris climate “accord.” Then, there was the abrogation of the weak-kneed, poisonous agreement (not a “treaty) with the totalitarian and aggressive Islamic Republic of Iran. I applauded both with both hands. I was pleasantly surprised later by the initiative toward North Korea although I reserve judgment because nothing much has actually been accomplished on that front, except, possibly (possibly) a better mood. I do think President Trump has gone farther on the road to disarming that kingdom of cruelty and madness than any previous president. Yet, I am afraid that we have inadvertently improved the conditions for the repression of the suffering North Korean people without improving our own safety. I am fairly sure that the relentless persecution of Mr Trump by his vicious domestic enemies is probably not helpful when it comes to his focusing on issues that can seemingly be made to wait. North Korea’s nuclear armament is one such issue.
The Damned Wall
Recently, (December 2018) I have been watching a little bemused the struggle between Pres. Trump and Congress about his electoral promise to build a wall along the length of our southern border. I was bemused, for lack of a better emotion. I think the wall is a bad idea for several reasons. One, it would not make much of dent in illegal immigration. Most illegals come by plane or ship and just overstay their visa. With a wall, many more would simply do the same. Second, I believe a real wall would have severely negative effect on the welfare of the border zone fauna. (Those who know me are aware of the fact that I am not a Greenie, not by a long shot. I believe that the main solution to alleged global warming is nuclear power. I just think the world is better place with many healthy animals than not. This judgment encompasses jaguars that sometimes go back and forth across the border in the southern Arizona area.)
All the same, I don’t wish for Mr Trump – now that he has shown his hand – to suffer a political defeat about the wall by Democrats who are getting uppity before they even occupy the House. He has been asking for about $35 for every adult American to build a part of the wall. I am pretty sure DC could save most of this by conserving paper clips.
International Trade Meanders
President Trump did a lot of things I found objectionable. That’s in addition to his manners that – I agree with all liberals and many stuck-up conservatives – are detestable. For one thing, his meanders on international trade are hard to follow. I often wonder if he shares the normal conservative faith that free trade enriches most people or if, rather, his mind is occupied by simplistic and erroneous zero-sum plus images. Most of the time, I just don’t know.
His biggest trade mano-a-mano is with China. It may be that he will win it and obtain a better trade deal with that country than now exists. I have a problem with the fact that the usually enlightened press (such as the Wall street Journal) is describing in rather vague terms what American businesses have to gain if Mr Trump does win. Maybe Chinese courts will start protecting American intellectual property a bit better; maybe the Chinese government will stop imposing technology transfers to American investors; maybe, more sectors of the Chinese economy will be open to them. I just don’t know, in large part because I cannot possibly miss the theoretically missed gains of any of the above.
Also, I am keenly aware of the fact that Chinese manufacturing raised my standard of living significantly in my lifetime by giving me cheaper products: a basic quality garden shovel went from $20 to six dollars in a brief time, for example. Yes, the American made shovel was more sturdy but I don’t need a sturdy shovel that lasts forever. Most of us don’t. I am not eager to see Chinese imports in America become more expensive, or even cease, in order to obtain abstractly better terms for American businesses. I am especially not eager to make sacrifices in the name of greater American employment when unemployment is below 4%. That simple!
This being said, I still believe that Mr Trump has engaged the Chinese leadership in an arm wrestling contest. If I could bet, I would wager 60/40, that the Chinese leaders’ hands will hit the table first.
With almost all commentators, I think that Mr Trump’s specific way of extracting better deals from partners is partly responsible for the 2018 volatility of the stock market. I don’t mind volatility but only around a general upward direction. According to my back-of-the-envelop calculations, the Dow Jones has gained a net 1.6% since he took office. (Correct me if I am wrong.) That’s about as much as inflation. (Correct me again if I am wrong.) So, in the midst of obvious economic successes, the Trump administration has – for practical purposes – impoverished my IRA by contributing to its not growing. That’s hard to swallow for an old person like me who won’t have too many more chances to grow it. (I am guessing I am not alone.)
These past two years, I have not found many occasions to criticize publicly Mr Trump’s policies and decisions. In part it’s because he is owed the benefit of doubt; every new president is. His erratic style does not change this. I believe that to make big changes in well established institutions one has to shake hard. I suspect that a more prudent, more organized, calmer person would not have the stamina to do so. (This is subjective, of course.) The second reason I am restrained in my criticism is that I can’t find a sufficient cause to joint a lynch mob. A mob is especially repulsive when it’s composed of several segments of society as is the case with Mr Trump’s mob: Airhead, conscience-free media celebrities, high-tech billionaires looking for shelter in advance of the storm, stiff-assed little professors in their soft faculty clubs, many of those who think they are educated because they got a charity B in one of my classes!
The Late 2018 Thunderclap
Then, in late December 2018, thunderclap! In quick succession, Mr Trump hurriedly took the resignation of his Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, a man much trusted by about everyone; then, he announced an apparently total withdrawal from the Syrian battlefield, and then, a half pullout from Afghanistan. I object to all three.
General Mattis quit – like an honest man- because of serious policy disagreements with the president. It’s disturbing because it brings grit, a lot of grit, to the mill of those who have been repeating that Mr Trump is unable to listen to any of his advisers. Those include elected Republicans with credentials. It seems to me that instincts are not everything. If you have perfect instincts but no experience in a given field, you have to pay a lot of attention to those experts in that field you think don’t have animus against you. That’s General Mattis on war.
Withdrawing from Syria, and partially from Afghanistan, is no doubt popular but that does not make it right. A couple of reminders.
The Abandonment of Allies in Syria
The US originally intervened in Syria in part for humanitarian reasons, in part because of ISIS dangerous domination in parts of the country, following stunning military victories there. The current Syrian war began with a genuine people‘s uprising against a bloodthirsty hereditary tyrant. We failed to help them, utterly so. In our failure, we allowed other tyrants, the Russian one and the Islamic Republic of Iran, to put deep roots into the country allowing for endless repression of democratic elements there.
On the second objective, let me say first that I think that destroying those who threaten us and our world elsewhere than at home is generally a good idea. That’s especially true if it can be combined with a reasonably humanitarian mission. We succeeded to a large extent there but we are leaving without finishing the job. Mr Trump declare ISIS finished but it’s not true. ISIS maintains a territorial foothold in southeastern Syria. This is not a small detail because that terrorist organization gains a great deal of legitimacy among Muslims from its claim to be a “Caliphate,” a real state. It helps ISIS to keep recruiting. It perpetuates its ability to terrorize the world, especially Muslims.
More importantly, we did not succeed alone in the struggle against terrorist ISIS. The bulk of the ground fighting, the really dangerous fighting, was done by rank-and-file Kurdish troops (with contributions by democratic Arab forces). Well, it looks right now like we are abandoning those brave people, some of the best allies America has ever had. They will now have to face alone the Syrian fascist forces, the Turks – who hate the for their own domestic Kurdish reasons, and the Iranian-armed and propelled Shiite legions operating in the region. (The Kurds are almost all Sunni Muslims.)
This is immoral. I feel guilty about this as an American citizen. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time the USA abandons allies to their fates. You may have heard the claim that the Syrian forces involved are Communist, as alleged by the Turkish president. Myself, I don’t give a damn. In that part of the world, if you think girls should attend high school, that makes you a Communist!
Our abandonment of the Kurds is not going to go unnoticed world wide. Many will notice and remember that Americans are not reliable allies, that they will abandon you when it’s merely convenient. This will kill Americans in the future.
The American Failure of Nerves in Afghanistan
The argument for half leaving Afghanistan is that the US has been there for fourteen years and we are tired. Fourteen years is long enough for younger Americans to not know why we went there in the first place. Right after the 9//11 massacre, the US asked Afghanistan to deliver the Al Qaeda leader, who bragged about being the author of the mass murder, so he could be tried. The Taliban regime of Afghanistan refused. Those are the same people who executed “adulterous” women at half time during soccer games. (Note: An adulterous woman under Sharia is any woman who has sex with anyone but her husband. It’s not about virtuousness; it’s about ownership of women.) The Taliban refused.
At the time, there was a broad national consensus that people who helped those who kill Americans should not get away with it, should never again sleep easily. The joint resolution of Congress to give the president the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the 9/11 attack.” passed 420 to 1 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate.
After stunning early successes, the war against the Taliban got bogged down; it seemed to have lost its way. I cannot judge whether there was an inappropriate switch to “nation building,” as many conservative critics allege, or whether the latter was simply a natural strategic evolution. At any rate, right now, we are losing. If the US forces are withdrawn, there is an excellent chances that the Taliban, the accomplices to the 9/11 mass assassination of Americans and others, will soon be back in power directly or indirectly. And what message would that send to ragtag terrorists, gangster regimes (like Russia), aggressive Stalinist throwbacks like North Korea, and to the very successful, rich and powerful Fascist China? If you murder Americans, you may go through hard times for a while but eventually, the Americans will leave you alone because they have little staying power. Eventually, you will be able to resume half-time executions (and, by the way, to ban all music).
I Am For More War
I hear two main objections to this completely clear reasoning. First comes a particularly despicable kind of moral blackmail: Do you really want to be the one to say aloud that it’s fine to lose more American lives in this conflict? The same very common blackmailers never demonstrate any kind of concern for the much more numerous, much more futile, avoidable, domestic deaths of their fellow Americans. One example: In the past ten years, at least one hundred thousand Americans died from the actions of intoxicated drivers. Unlike our brave military men and women, none of the dead had volunteered. Almost all those deaths were avoidable. Here are my practical suggestion: first offense: license withdrawn forever; second offense: five years; third offense: life. (I am persuaded it would work because I used to drive under the influence myself. A small uptick in the severity of the relevant penalties is what made me stop, forever.)
The second objection concerns the (considerable) cost of war and of military preparedness. This argument is not sustainable when it is examined coolly. The last time I did the calculations was at the height of military deployment in Afghanistan. I determined then that I could sustain my share of its cost forever. This is not a surprising finding. US current military expenditures in the past twenty years have rarely reached 3% of GDP. (Think of GDP as similar to personal income.) I don’t think that spending 3% – total – of my income for security, including home devices and police and fire services, is extravagant. And, I live in a better neighborhood overall than the United States.
Besides, waging a real war in the future against a powerful enemy encouraged by our fickleness in the clear-cut case of Afghanistan would be vastly more expensive. You read me right: Exactly, I don’t want peace at all costs. I remember the Munich Accord, not a single unique event but a well illustrated instance illustrating well the general rule “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” (“If you want peace, prepare for war.”)
Mr Trump has forgotten this simple rule, it seems. He has finally managed, by himself, to shake my confidence, to make me question my willingness to give him the benefit of doubt. I will be watching him more skeptically in 2019 while trying to avoid inadvertently joining my political enemies.
To my friends who are sick I wish a healthy 2019, to those who are poor, a healthy year, to those who are dumb, I wish a miraculous re-arrangement of their brain nodules. As for my enemies, may God annihilate them. And if he can’t quite bring Himself to do it, let Him afflict them with with a limp so I can hear them coming. (Unfortunately, I did not make this up; it’s an Irish proverb I cribbed shamelessly.)